For the second game in a row, the US had some crap officiating in their CONCACAF Gold Cup match. Fortunately, the US won both games *despite* the refs. The first match against Guatemala was won 1-0 on a goal by Clint Dempsey, and the second game against Trinidad & Tobago was won 2-0 on goals by Brian Ching and Eddie “GAM” Johnson.

The first game was an infuriating display of diving, whining and bitching by “Los Chapines”. Of particular offense was Carlos Ruiz as he proceeded to fall down whenever a US player was near. Ruiz is one of those types of players that I really really despise. He is one of those guys that pushes you, pulls your jersey, clips your heels, throws elbows, etc. But if you barely touch him, he does a spectacular Greg Louganis impersonation and dives head first into the turf while clutching an ankle or knee all the while screaming like a banshee. He literally cannot be defended without him falling down. And its a shame, because he is otherwise a very good striker.

Of course, by now, you would assume that referees the world over are wise to his game and wouldn’t call the dives. Nope. The good refs don’t call it as much, but he’s good for at least one or two per game. And then if you get a crap ref like the USA did on Thursday, they buy all of it. Hook, line and sinker. And if you’re a really crappy ref, then you not only give fouls for the dives, but you start handing out cards too. Guatemala was falling all over the field, and pushing the US team with late challenges all game long. It’s hard to play in a match like that where the game is not called evenly, where a Guatemalan player could push, clip, elbow without getting called, but the slightest challenge from a US player resulted in a foul.

Against Trinidad, the far-side linesman incorrectly called no less than THREE breakaways by the US as offsides. THREE!!!!! All three were good scoring opportunities and you would think would have scored at least one of them, putting the game out of reach very early. And it wasn’t like they were really tough calls either, they were clearly onsides and the linesman blew it. He also got one wrong in the second half when Trinidad was on, and he called it off. Didn’t matter much at that point since Trinidad was rarely trying to get behind the US defense. The center ref wasn’t bad though.

Well, enough complaining about the refs. The US under Bob Bradley has a decidedly different flavor than they did under Bruce Arena. The main change I see is that Bradley seems (so far at least) to like to play with two 2-way midfielders in the center. Arena liked to play a diamond midfield with an attacking midfielder to run the team (like Reyna or Donovan) and a defensive midfielder behind him (like Armas or Mastroeni). In the Guatemala game he started Michael Bradley and Benny Feilhaber and in the Trinidad game he started Feilhaber with Ricardo Clark. All three of those guys are just as good defending as they are attacking. All three are athletic with good size, good ball skill, vision and creativity. Bradley is a bit more offensive minded than the other two, but all of them can defend and attack equally. They are also all really young. I was impressed with the play of all of them. With another three years under their belt when the next World Cup comes around, this could be a real strength for us. This is a real difference from the Arena days with two limited guys in the center. Reyna and Donovan were the mainstays at that position for Arena and were also notoriously easy to mark out of a game. If that happened, the whole offense went in the crapper. If these young guys can perform it will be a huge leap for us, I think.

Another thing I’ve noticed as a negative is that the defense is not really as organized as it was under Arena. Sometimes, you can clearly see the lines of 4 along the midfield and defense, but there are also many times when the lines were ragged and disorganized. This could be because there are much more active players who tend to chase the ball around, but it could also be because these guys are generally younger and less experienced or disciplined. We shall see how they hold up against much more tactically astute teams like Mexico who they probably won’t see until the next round.

In the meantime, Oguchi Onyewu needs to learn the position a little more. He is a real physical specimen at 6’4″ and 210lbs which is just massive for a soccer player. But his main problem is like plays like a huge monster on the field swatting opposing players around like he was swatting at gnats. He needs to learn when to muscle and when to backoff. He needs to anticipate a little better and get to the spot first instead of the other way around. If he can beat the other guy to the right spot, there is no way they move him out of the way. But if they beat him to that spot, he has to run over/through them to get the ball which he does with no problem except for the fact that the ref usually calls him for the foul. At this point, I think he pretty much needs to play with an organizer next to him, he is just not suited or capable (now anyway) of being “the man” along a back four. He gets pulled out of position much too easily, not to mention the whole fouling and card accumulation problem. Jimmy Conrad and Greg Berhalter fit that bill nicely, and Carlos Bocanegra did a pretty good job of it on Thursday but I don’t think that is a good long-term role for him.

The next game is against El Salvador on Tuesday night at 7pm.